World renowned in two and four wheel motorsport, Öhlins is now being hailed as the 'must have' product in a new genre- Mountain biking!..
In an ambitious partnership with MTB legends Specialized, the yellow shocks now adorn the Californian company's high-end Downhill and Enduro machines after a rigorous testing programme in Europe and the USA.
The cutting edge Demo 8 and Enduro Evo models are the first wave of bikes to hit the 2,700 Specialized Centres, a fact that is held very proudly at Öhlins HQ in Sweden.
Torkel Sintorn looks after the product development and Racing for the off-road market. He and a team of four engineers headed up the new MTB project.
"Specialized is a very different type of company to what we're used to working with, they're a great group of guys with an exciting development programme.
From the beginning they wanted a true partnership with total exclusivity and invited us as a high performance player in the MX sector. They had their own in-house suspension programme for the cross country and Enduro side but wanted us to come in and shake things up to really move on the Downhill market. They clearly want to be No.1 in everything they do and offer the best performance which is what we've supplied them with.
The mountain bike market had some good looking 'trick' suspension products but what I think we've been able to offer is superior ride quality, traction, performance and a fast reacting shock.
The biggest difference has been the traction of the rear wheel onto the dirt. You have to remember with Downhill the bike is moving really quickly over rocks, roots etc but also has to absorb bumps, corners, berms and of course big hits (jumps).
From the very first test our aim was to vastly improve the rear wheel grip which is what the testers told us we achieved. Previously the rear wheel ‘skipped’ about and moved from side to side, we’ve worked hard to eliminate this movement, now the wheels follow each other inline with smooth consistent traction characteristics.
The Enduro Evo model is a different ‘animal’ completely, the shock need to be able to cope with high pedalling efficiency on the uphill sections which characterise this new sector of the sport. There is also a different set-up of the shock with a high speed adjuster to give pedal ‘friendliness’.
Our first big test was in Northern Sweden in October 2012. We used a Scandinavian test team and the guys from Specialized came over- maybe the Californians experienced a bit of climate change!
We then went to their test facility at Morgan Hill (Specialized HQ) where we used black springs, yellow is a little too obvious and there was a high level of secrecy in the US.
It's fair to say that during the first test there was no real expectation, just good to get some base settings and see that the product worked well. However when we got to the States and their World Cup Downhill racers including Brad Benedict were in action it was clear the pace and the big hits the riders took was far higher than our own testers, but still the shock worked well and we had massive positive feedback.
The World launch of the new bikes was held at the Vale di Sole World Cup Mountainbike Downhill course, now that really was a different level again, it was eye opening and maybe a little scary! Even with experience of World Motocross and Supercross we comprehend the difficulty level of this place."
With mountainbiking still very much a growth sport, this partnership is extremely exciting for the Öhlins team. For more information about the Specialized range of bikes see www.specialized.com
Five minutes with Specialized Marketing Manager Sam Benedict…
How did you come about creating this relationship with Öhlins?
McAndrews, our Director of Suspension Technologies, has been around moto a long time and has always appreciated the precision and performance of Öhlins. We were trying to figure out how to take the next step in mountain biking performance and an obvious way was an even better, closer suspension relationship with a partner that could really focus on what would give the rider the best experience. So Mick got Öhlins on the phone and we went testing shortly after. That went really well with our in-house Suspension Manager and former World Cup racer, Brad Benedict. He was pretty floored by the gains in performance.
Presumably you were well aware of the Öhlins name through MX?
Yes well aware. MX, MotoGP, Formula 1, dream bikes and cars I like to drool about…
What was your experience of the Öhlins R&D testing procedures?
Super rad! But not that surprising. I didn't know what the tests were beforehand but I just expected nothing but the best from a company like Öhlins. So even though it was very cool, it just makes sense that product of this quality would go through tests like that… how else would you be able to make suspension this good?
The testing near your base was carried out with black painted springs we hear?!
Ha! To the trained eye, yeah, little too obvious, the yellow and gold is iconic. But you would be surprised how much prototype stuff goes completely unnoticed and we have to test in real life, so black it is!
What was the initial feedback from riders and testers?
Pure grins mixed with a little disbelief. Riders would be coming down, just shredding and super fired up, which we like. The disbelief comes from always have ridden some great shocks before and yet being able to feel a noticeable difference.
How important is the Downhill market and where are the main regions?
Downhill is the pinnacle of speed, performance, precision, and white knuckle-speed. We love it! The riders push so hard, ride so fast, and are willing to try out new things just to gain a few tenths of a second. And that's what it takes to make great riding bikes, for any type or riding. We learn so much from DH, it's massively important. The bigger markets are USA, Germany, France, and the UK but there are a lot of DHers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Columbia, Canada… it's everywhere now.
And obviously creating suspension for DH and Enduro machines very different, what are the main factors?
The biggest change is that a DH racer is never going to have to pedal up the hill; Enduro riders need fantastic descending performance but also have to get back to the top under their own power. Pedalling is a bigger part of the thought process.
Any future plans with Öhlins?
It all comes down to making the ride the best. I believe working with Öhlins has taken our bikes up a couple of notches and would be super excited to see more bikes with Öhlins on there. Our relationship is one of mutual respect for riding and performance so it works really well and I expect it to get even stronger in the future.